LIVEBLOG: Morning Fundamentals Workshop: My Blog as Media Company
THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011, 10 a.m. PST
MORNING FUNDAMENTALS WORKSHOP: MY BLOG AS MEDIA COMPANY
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>> LISA STONE: Good morning, everybody. Good morning, everybody. How are you doing? Welcome to Pathfinder Day. Thanks for your patience. We decided that we felt we needed to be protected from you by a table and we wanted to join the community. My name is Lisa Stone. I'm the CEO and one of the cofounders of BlogHer along with Elisa and Jory.
And I have been brought in today as a moderator for two amazing women. I'm going to let them introduce themselves, but in our opinion, these two women have really helped lead blogging onto a national stage. One thing that impresses me so much is over the past seven years, I feel like I've watched them completely innovate the space, work harder than just about anyone I have ever seen work and also be completely true to their hearts. One of the things that I was discussing with Sandra Miley and Ree yesterday was it's really hard for women to say no. It's really important when you think about where you want to take your blog as a media company to say no to certain things. And I think y'all have said yes to some important things and no to some even bigger ones. So, welcome.
>> I love to say no.
>> It is fun.
>> LISA STONE: So why don't we start by having you introduce yourselves.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Good morning, everyone. It is so important to be in San Diego where it's not a bazillion degrees outside.
My name is Kathryn Finney. And in 2003, I founded The Budget Fashionista, which is a blog about living your best for less and being fabulous for less. And I think we're going to talk a little bit more in detail about sort of my journey and my path. But I am excited, thrilled, exhilarated, to be here today with you.
>> REE DRUMMOND: Hi, I'm Ree Drummond and I shouldn't have won the Spanx. My oxygen level hasn't gotten up to normal yet, so I am not going to be giving any pointers today on public speaking, I will tell you that.
The first order of business will be not to wear Spanx. I'm happy to be here. This is my fourth BlogHer, I think. And the first BlogHer was '07, just a year after I started my blog. And it's been kind of fun to have this as sort of an anchor year after year. But I started my blog in 2006. And I'm still blogging. And I'll fill in the blanks later today. But I'm happy to be here, guys, and I'm also looking forward to hearing about all of your sites and what your plans are and et cetera, et cetera. (breathing heavy).
I'll be all right.
>> LISA STONE: I will take my cue and jump in to discuss this day we have together. The first thing we're going to do is for the next couple of hours until noon when the amazing Jess Weiner is going to talk to us. We'll go through the surveys that you all were kind enough to take, what we learned about them from this community and then begin to plumb the death depths of the expertise from these depths of the expertise from these two women. Then we'll have lunch and then this afternoon, Kathy and Ree are interested in you having the opportunity in asking a question in general and/or, go through, show your blog and ask a very specific piece of advice. And if we were to do that for everyone in the room, we'd probably only have three minutes each, but if that's something you all want to do, these women are willing to do it. So let's think about that and talk about that at about 10 minutes to noon when we wrap up, okay? Keep that in your minds.
But first I wanted to just go over some of the key questions that we ask you. My Blog As Media Company. How do I scale? How do I grow this footprint? How do I widely distribute content? How do I monetize? Obviously what works for me in my master plan?
And the very two things that these two started talking about is that everyone starts at the beginning.
So, Kathryn, let's start at your beginning.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Okay. Let's see this. May I play it?
>> Go ahead.
>> LISA STONE: Any introductory commentary?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Um, this is what you should not look like on television.
Let's say that.
>> LISA STONE: Okay. Let's see if I can get my YouTube up and running here. Okay. Now I'm supposed to -- oh, you guys, I'm sorry.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Just to give a little back story while you're bringing it up, my very first television appearance was on The "Today" Show, which is a very interesting way to start. And, you know, I just received this call. I think they followed me through the power of SEO and Google. I cannot tell you, and I think we'll talk a little bit later. Really learn some basic search engine optimization. You do not need to hire anyone. You can learn it yourself. And it really does work good when you're looking at getting press.
When I started, I wasn't looking at getting press. I just happened to marry like a tech nerd. So he knew all about SCO and stuff like that. So I got a call from The "Today" Show and this is the result.
>> LISA STONE: And I apologize. I'm not sure how great my audio will be, everybody, okay?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: The visuals, you'll get the picture. The subject is how do you create a stylish look? And that's Marshall's.
Look at the hair, my God. What was I thinking? Geez. I was on the floor, yes. And I still do that to this day.
>> LISA STONE: I think you look cute.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I appreciate that.
>> LISA STONE: That's how Kathryn described herself on the phone.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I said I looked like an unsuccessful drag queen. Very unsuccessful.
>> LISA STONE: So let's flash forward, shall we?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: And this was from this year. This was from Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
>> LISA STONE: Watch this. Wait until you see this
>> Watch this. Let me see if I can get it to work right.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Even though we are using a better service than YouTube even. It's completely different.
I love that shot.
>> LISA STONE: So there you are on the set.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: She's the nicest person in the entire world. So nice.
>> LISA STONE: And she's telling you you look beautiful and you're saying thank you.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: You get the picture. So, sorry, guys. So back to the whole subject of everybody starts somewhere, any wrapup comments on that before you begin? Comb your hair before going on television.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: My mother says wear lipstick. Basically the gist is that we all have to have a beginning. And don't worry so much about the beginning. You will grow. You will expand as you get more experience. But don't be afraid to begin. That is pretty much the most important thing I think anyone can do is get started. Go for it. Swallow your own fear.
I had to do a lot of swallowing that day with The "Today" Show. It took a lot for me not to pass out in the middle of Marshall's. But, you know, we all have to begin somewhere. And your path and your future and the things that are sort of before you, it's through that process that you're going to grow and you're going to grow your brand and your company.
>> LISA STONE: Ree had a beginning of her own. Ree Drummond.
>> REE DRUMMOND: Doesn't that look awesome?
We're starting those sandwiches for lunch today with my dirty fingernails on top of the bun. Artfully depressing the bun slightly because I thought it would make it look, it would make it pop or something, I don't know what I thought.
This was when I started the food portion of my website, which is about seven or eight months after I started my personal blog.
When I started my blog in '06, it couldn't have been more on a whim. And I certainly had no plan to take it into food. So when I did start taking photos of the things I was cooking and posting them, I really obviously had no food photography experience. So this was the sandwich in 2007.
Raise your hand if you still say the word "grody," girls. We got a couple of … Not really.
But this is the same sandwich this summer. And this was just a casual little snapshot, really.
So, you know, the biggest piece of information I'd like to get across today is that the sites you see online that you admire, whether it's Huffington Post or a certain blogger sites that are beautifully designed and that have a lot of content that's interesting, most of them did not start that way. I started my site, and we'll get into this later, but I started on Blogger. I had a Blogspot.com address and just one of their canned templates for months and months.
So I really want to get across that as we're saying there's always a beginning. And we don't -- I did not, for a reason, post the first couple of my television appearances.
You will not believe what I did on my first television appearance.
>> What did you do?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Thank you for asking, Kathryn. I'll tell you what I did. It was Bonnie Hunt. I loved Bonnie Hunt. And I was nervous. I didn't know what to say. And I actually talked about Spanx. Can you believe I would do such a thing? I'm so glad I've learned since then.
Not really. so.
>> LISA STONE: So we went ahead and we wanted to know who you were. And we thought that we could get to know each other a little during lunch rather than go around and have everyone introduce themselves at first. So we asked how long you've been blogging. And what's interesting to see the diversity of experience here. Most of you have been blogging one to two years. But nearly as many have been blogging three to four years. We have some brand newbies and we have some very senior bloggers here.
We also asked what topics you blog about. Now, what's interesting is that this is true of this particular group of women, but parenting and family bloggers are not the majority of people who attend the BlogHer conference. So I think it's really interesting that we went in 2005 from where the women we're the women who blog, to having parenting blogging take the national stage the way it has. I think it's very inspirational, frankly.
>> Lisa, who are the biggest number of bloggers?
>> LISA STONE: What distinguishes the attendance of the BlogHer conference in general is its diversity. So we have, from parenting to politics, from food to fashion, from technology to true advocacy. We'll talk about this in the opener tomorrow. So, for example, there's a whole subconference devoted to people who are aimed at the sort of differently abled group. It's just a fantastic conference. I don't even have the words to describe the diversity.
And about 15 to 20 percent have never blogged at all. So -- and we have an interesting representation of that here. But parenting, family, personal life, health and wellness, food, all extremely popular with this group as well as fashion, beauty, DRY and travel.
Now this is really interesting, as well. We asked: What are your top priorities for developing your blog? And very clearly: Scaling and online reach and also how to monetize your blog are the two biggest leaders.
When it came to the other questions that we asked, getting a book deal, TV or radio, press, not as much of interest.
And what I thought was fascinating about it is that I wonder if there is any belief by you all that the last three have something to do with the first two? Do you need to do television, do press, have a book deal in order to scale effectively? We're going to get to that.
The last thing, of course, there are priorities that we didn't even ask about that I'm sure you all have. And so this will be an opportunity for you all to bring them up.
So, in getting into these questions, Ree and Kathryn came up with a series of answers. And the most important message that you guys wanted to get across is that content is everything. Take it away.
>> REE DRUMMOND: Well, when we were sort of discussing the different categories of this discussion, you know, growing the reach, book deal, et cetera, et cetera, I just kind of kept thinking about what my focus has been from the beginning and that is content. Content on a website, in my opinion, is everything. Because you can travel to conferences and hand out your business card every weekend if you want to. But if you don't have a website that's compelling and that keeps people engaged, the people that you hand your business card to might visit, but they won't come back. You can have a television appearance promoting your website, but if your content isn't strong, the television appearance will just result in a temporary gain in traffic.
So always and forever I have always wanted my content to be interesting. I've always blamed this a little bit on being a middle child and wanting to please. And early in my blog experience, I have literally blogged every day of the week, seven days a week. Of course, I had one section, it was just one blog then, but because I didn't want people to come to my site and not have something new to read. I didn't want to inconvenience anyone. I sort of pulled back from that a little bit.
But in a way, I'm still thinking about my content constantly. So, you know, when you make decisions about what to do, whether it's should I travel to more conferences? Or should I look into honing my speaking skills so I can do speaking engagements? Or should I pursue television appearance, local press, try to get interviews, try to get published in magazines, it can't ever be at the expense of your content because in the end, we are all bloggers. To me, whether I have had a cookbook or a children's book or what I'm about to start doing in a month or so …
>> LISA STONE: A Food Network show.
>> REE DRUMMOND: At the very core, if I had to choose, I would choose blogging. So there have been times where my travel, my pace, my schedule has kind of chipped away at my ability to keep my content updated on a schedule that makes me feel good about my site. And those are the times where I've kind of get off balance with my work.
So content, content, content. And then you can worry about your hair after that.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: But I think, you know, one of the things, I mean we'll talk about sort of what happened with TBF, is that everything I do, I look at as content. So if I'm talking to someone, it's content. If I'm doing an interview, it's content.
And one of the things that we always try to make sure is that we are consistent through whatever we do. And I think that goes back to this thinking of yourself, this media, your blog is a media company, your blog as a brand, and asking yourself what is your brand? And making sure that your content, whatever you do, so if you're here at blogger, if you're at, you know, on the local TV show, if you are writing a post for your blog, that it's all communicating who you are and what you are about.
And that's something that I found that's been helpful towards our success is that when you see me, whether I'm on TV or whatever, I am still, you know, shopping at Marshall's on the floor, or Forever 21 or Target or Goodwill or Salvation Army, you're not seeing something that's not consistent with the brand.
But I echo everything that Ree says. And start thinking of your content as more than just your blog post. It's you, basically. It's your brand. And really focus on whatever you do, whatever strategies you take from here, that you make sure that is consistent. And that you're being consistent with who your brand is and who you are.
>> LISA STONE: Now let me ask you all for some advice because if you're saying content is everything and quality is clearly embedded with that, how do you make decisions? There's so much content you can do. There's video. There's photography. There's text. Is it valuable to come up with a defined mission? And a series of goals? How do you embed quality in that? And what advice do you all have for how you take that on?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I think it's a good question. There's only so many hours in a day, right? And hopefully we all have other lives, too, besides just what we do online. And I think, you know, in terms of …
hopefully, you know. And to be really frank, it was maybe 2008, and I was just burnt out. I had been doing The Budget Fashionista for five years. I have been doing it and I was exhausted. The brain, the synapses weren't working.
And so we hired some content people to write for us. And we still have it for a couple of like really for almost a year or two because I was just so exhausted of like doing it, writing every day, many times a day. And what I found was while it's good to have people who are support and I really encourage that, that really, you have to set the vision. Like you have to be involved. Like you can't necessarily pass on everything, particularly when it comes to your brand. And again your blog is your brand. You can't just pass it off to anyone and have anyone do.
And that was a lesson that we learned the hard way. I mean, our traffic dipped. I had a "come to Jesus" moment or "come to Target moment," whatever you want to call it, where I had to say what am I about? What is The Budget Fashionista about? What are we doing? It seems like we lost our way. How do I bring us back to who we are? Who am I? What do I want to do with my life right now?
>> LISA STONE: Can I ask really specifically? What was the moment that you felt like what the site was doing, what the blog was doing, what your company, and I don't know if we should be talking about blogs or companies here, was doing wasn't right? Did you read a post where you thought un-uh? Did you see a photograph that you were embarrassed of? What?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: It was definitely, I had started to really look at the site and read the site. We had a very large anniversary party that was, you know, fabulous and everything was there and blah, blah, blah. And I was sitting there and it was just kind of like "this isn't exactly who I am. I'm not especially the fashion industry, it's very easy to get drawn into the froulala, the fabulousness of it. And that's not really who I am. I think I'm fabulous, but not like, you know, I'm a normal person. I'm from Minneapolis. We don't get froulala-y.
And I just realized at that point that this is not the exact direction I want to go. And at the same time we had a book deal. And I was telling the story to someone earlier. I was offered a nice book deal to basically write the same … I don't want to swear -- crap, I'll say -- that is often in the fashion books. Like how to wear this. How to match this. That sort of stuff. And I had a different idea of a book I wanted to write, which was more about the retail industry, particularly the tricks that they use to get you to buy, from placement to pricing, all of these different things.
And it was at that moment, the publisher was like no, we don't want that book. We want you to write a book about how to wear miniskirts and stuff like that. I said that's not who I am. That's not really even what The Budget Fashionista is about. And so all of these things sort of happened at the same time where I was like, you know, this is just not the direction I want us to go in. We need to like pivot.
And you'll find yourselves doing that. It's okay to change. It's okay to change directions. You don't have to go in the same path that you've maybe again going on for years. If you decide that you don't want to just write about, you know, your family, but you want to do food photography and you want to help other people learn how to take pictures, go things -- that's okay. That's okay to do.
>> LISA STONE: Thoughts on that, Ree?
>> REE DRUMMOND: We're going to be all over the place.
>> LISA STONE: It's okay.
>> REE DRUMMOND: It's hard for me to follow PowerPoint presentations because I just go off. But early on, because maybe it's the middle child thing, I like to assign blame on things that I had no control over like birth order, so I'll blame my middle child status, but my content from the beginning was varied. I posted a couple of text posts first.
>> LISA STONE: Why don't we go right into your description? Can we do that?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Absolutely.
>> LISA STONE: They did sort of genesis stories how their blogs changed. Do you guys mind if we take a few seconds and look at those? Take it away, Ree.
>> REE DRUMMOND: May 2006, started a blog in my yoga pants. That text is small. I used Blogger. Had it up and running in 10 minutes. Raise your hand if you did that. Yeah. It's easy, isn't it? It was Reedrummond.blogspot.com. So that's how I knew to get a Blogspot on Blogger. I called and it asked for a -- they called it Confessions of a Pioneer Woman.
When I married my husband, who is rancher, my friends who I had grown up with said what in the hell are you talking about? They called me Pioneer Woman. And it was very tongue in cheek. So is the title of my blog.
In fact, I often think I should have put "Pioneer Woman" in quotes. So people would know that it is a tongue in cheek designation.
But then I freaked out because I had put my last name online. And I thought you got murdered if you did that.
So I went back and I deleted that blog and then I started PioneerWoman.blogspot.com. So that was my site for several months. And I just started posting, not wonderful pictures of my kids, just an HP point and shoot camera. Suzie the dog. And a couple weeks after I started blogging, I thought: I want to take better pictures. I want my pictures to be more mo' betta. So I bought myself a big girl camera. Oh, sorry.
Go ahead. Put it back. I miss him.
It's been 24 hours. No.
So this is so compressed, and, guys, I'm so happy later if we have one on one time to answer any questions about steps along the way, but my site, if you could see a map of the traffic, a graph, it is like this for 5 1/2 years. I mean I have never had this and this and this and this. It's all been very, very steady.
And it's, I believe, because my content, I have worked hard on my content. And people would come and read -- not everyone would come back, but some would come back. And the people that came back told their friends. Do you remember that hair commercial? And they told two friends and so on and so on?
No ads, no sponsors. I didn't really know, obviously, when I started that that was a viable way to make a living. So for months and months and months I just blogged. And that's when I started my cooking site.
And how it started was … I didn't know there was such thing as a food blog. I just had this personal blog. And I have blogged about every other dang thing in my life. And I was about to cook my husband a steak, and I said "Ooh, I'm going to take pictures of my steak."
And it got appetizing. Goodness. Moo. So instead of waiting, though, until the end, I took pictures before, during and after. I took a picture of the steak. Then I took a pictures of my fingers sprinkling McCormick lemon and pepper seasoning on my steak. And putting the butter on the skillet. And it was a lot of fun. And I posted it on my personal website. Didn't really know if anyone would care. But the response was favorable because I think the step-by-step process was either helpful for those who didn't know how to cook what I was cooking or just interesting to watch.
So I blogged about food on my personal website for several months. And I knew so much about building a web property that I actually started a new URL. Moved it off of my personal blog and it was the pioneerwomancooks.com. So this is a recent photo. I should have included more grody old food photos of mine because there are a lot. They're in my archives if you'd like to check them out sometime.
So eventually, and I can give you a timeline, but it was eight months after I started my personal blog I started my food blog. And then about seven months after that, I split them into two. And then about a year after that was when I started chronicling this remodeling of an old guest house on our ranch.
And of course by then, everything is content. Everything is worth … not everything, but I thought it would be interesting to chronicle this remodel. And I thought well I can't put it on my personal blog. I can't put it on my cooking blog. I'll start a third blog. And I was thinking I was asking my husband: What URL should I reserve? Godaddy.com, what should I get? And he said why don't you just put it all on one site? So that's when I moved everything to thepioneerwoman.com.
>> LISA STONE: Hey, Ree, how did you communicate to your community after you were doing this? So you were doing your confessions blog. Then you started a separate cooking blog. And then you combined them back together again. What was it like to communicate with your readers during that time?
>> REE DRUMMOND: I just sort of followed my natural instincts and kind of my knowledge level at the time. Obviously when I split them into two, that didn't really make the best sense, but I thought it did because, again, I didn't want to inconvenience my readers. And I thought well there are a lot of people who want to read about horses and cattle and cowboys and kids that might not care about a chocolate cake recipe. So that was my motivation for splitting them.
And then what I would do was on confessions, I would say I have a new cooking blog, cooking post up. And then I thought, well, now I'm inconveniencing people because I'm sending them to another site. So it's always kind of this how can I make it more convenient, easier for readers? So then when I did combine them into one, I just launched the new site. And there it was. So it's just sort of a natural.
But most of the sections on my site now, confessions cooking, photography, home and garden, home schooling and now entertainment, because I have a movie addiction, sort of came about as the need arose. The home and garden came about because of the remodel. And photography came about because I was doing photography tutorials on my confessions blog and thought, well, there are people who want to read about cows and horses who might not care about what an aperture is.
So that's another little kind of piece of advice. I really narrowed down the things that I really enjoy writing about. And it was a long time before I started this entertainment section that I just started because I had to make sure I had the resources, internal resources, to write the posts. But that's just a little broad stroke tour through why I'm here, how I got here.
>> LISA STONE: So we have these three different screen shots of your website now. We have the confessions part of the blog. Here's the cooking part of the blog. And here is the photography part of the blog.
You know, one of the things that you had suggested when we were talking is the whole adjective or mad lib exercise. So if you take quality of content and then take quality is everything, can you just share what you were thinking about with adjective exercise for how to define what you're doing? Even if you want to do everything, which you clearly do and can do.
>> REE DRUMMOND: No, I can't.
>> LISA STONE: But you were covering everything from Gone with the Wind to pig cake. I mean, this is a nice spectrum. I'm impressed. But what do you … what's the sort of …
>> REE DRUMMOND: Two wranglers. I wanted to have a big white board so we could all do those youth group exercises where you get up and scribble and sort of brainstorm, but I thought it might be useful just to do sort of a stream of consciousness. What do I enjoy on websites? What would I like to see in my website? Don't think about it too much. Just scribble. And I can't remember what mine were, but pretty was one of them. I like feminine and floral and butterflies. I can't remember what my other adjectives were. Oh, useful.
One thing that I was sort of a turning point for me with blogging -- and I hadn't been blogging enough to have burned out on it at all, but when I really started getting energized about blogging was when I started my cooking site and when I started doing photography tutorials. And I believe the reason it kind of charged me up was that what I was posting was actually of use to people.
Personal blogging is great, and it sort of conveys your heart to your readers. It can provide funny moments, gross moments in my family's case. But, you know, the cooking tutorials, the photography tutorials, when readers started emailing or commenting, saying "I just made this and love it" or "I finally get it. Thank you for explaining what an aperture is."
To me, that's exciting. Even though the website is thepioneerwoman.com, and it's me, me, me and a lot of blogs are me, me, me, me, it helped me to know that there was a takeaway. That's one of those corporate words from the '90s. What's the takeaway from this?
So that's another thing you can ask yourself. What is this post providing to the people who read it? Is it kind of a light moment in the day and a last? Or is it a recipe that they can use to make their husband? Or is it an aha moment in photography? Or a shopping tip that helps them save money?
>> LISA STONE: I think that all our surveys showed that this sort of Google-trained, Facebook-trained reader, all of your readers are really trying to answer the question to herself: Who cares? She's got 900 channels. She's got a zillion websites that she can visit.
If, as our mutual friend Elise Bauer from Simplyrecipes.com says, it can be useful or timely. Which really wraps up what each one of you said or some combination of the three, then you can entice that user to return day by day.
It's interesting, Kathryn, because you sort of covered what you did not want to do. So in the adjective game or the mad lib game of the self, what you don't want to be I think as a brand or company is just as important as what you do want to be. So I think it's a brilliant exercise.
And let's go through your experience, as well, Kathryn. Ree, did you want to add?
>> REE DRUMMOND: I wondered, did anyone want to shout out 10 adjectives that we either aspire to or admire in sites?
>> LISA STONE: Or things you don't want to be, too. Yes, Ma'am. "Empowering," says Akita. "Something that would cause you to want to share it. " Yes, Ma'am.
Empowering, inspiring. Yes, Ma'am.
>> LISA STONE: Clever. Yeah?
"Clean and not cluttered. " Amen to that. Yes.
"Fun. " I love these.
"Achievable, not just aspirational." I hope someone is writing them all down and we can put them in the PowerPoint and we can send them to you later.
Yes, Ma'am. "Supportive. Supportive to your community."
Others? "Eye candy. " "Awesome." Are we at 10? We have at least eight. We have eight. Two more? Yes, Ma'am.
"Unique. Maybe even uniquely you." Yeah. I like that.
"Quality." Thank you. Across the board. That was excellent.
I will get the list and add them to the PowerPoint so that you guys can have it later. Thank you.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Oh, Lord. Okay. So I started way back in the stone ages, right? In 2002, literally my life collapsed. Like everything I knew, everything I had worked for just left, pretty much. You know, I lost my very cool job. I went to school to be an epidemiologist, which is the study of diseases and how they impact people. So you can definitely see the link to fashion.
So and that just goes to show where you begin may not be where you end up. And that life is just full of surprises. So in 2002, I was "let go" -- we all know that means "fired" -- from my high-powered, high-traveling job.
At the same time, I was getting my first apartment, and someone so thoughtfully cleared out my entire bank account. I don't know how they did it, but they got my savings account, too. Big stuff at eBay and Harry and David, which I'm like what is Harry and David, I had no idea. I had to look that up. It took me six months to get my money fully back.
I had no way to pay for my masters' student loans. I had a fabulous closet, though. I had really cute furniture. And I lived two hours away from all my friends, and also my father passed. All of this happened in 2002. My life completely sucked. Completely sucked.
>> Sorry, I was totally mesmerized.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: But in 2002, I got married, which was a very, very positive thing. I married a cute, adorable tech nerd. I call him. Who was very into all things online. He would talk all the time about this search engine called Google. I was like what is Google? That's like a crazy name. And he was like, you know, why don't you start a blog? I was like okay. What is a blog? Like, I had never heard of that. Like it sounds like a disease or something.
And so we started The Budget Fashionista on a platform called Gray Matter. And I will buy anyone a drink here who knows what Gray Matter was. Does anyone? Okay.
>> Never heard of it.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I'll buy myself an extra drink tonight.
Gray Matter was like the precursor to Word Press, the precursor to pretty much all of the blogging platforms that we all use now and take advantage of now. So it's like way back in the day.
And so my husband suggested I start this blog about my crazy shopping adventures. I was living in Philly at the time trying to be fashionable, spending way too much time and money at Straw Brings and Lord & Taylor. He's like, “Girlfriend, you got to get this in control because you're making us broke.”
And so I started The Budget Fashionista in 2003. It was really from a love of fashion and lack of cash. It was how I was trying to live a great life but also managing this budget that I was now under. And I needed to desperately be under.
And when I started it, a lot of my friends were like, "budget shopping?" like "what is that?" Like no one cared about budget shopping in 2003. If we can think back.
>> LISA STONE: I can't. I can't even believe. No, I cannot believe that.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: People were like "you're crazy. No one cares about shopping at the Goodwill. No one cares about what you found that's a Salvation Army and how you tricked it out." We had a lot of money, I guess, in 2003.
>> LISA STONE: Some people did. But let me ask you this, though. So people were saying that to you and you decided: I'm doing it, anyway. Your own friends were saying "you're crazy."
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: My own friends who are now broke and read The Budget Fashionista -- yeah, were saying that to me. But this is who I am. So for me in 2003, not only, like I grew up, my grandmother was a seamstress. So I grew up going to Salvation Army and Goodwill. I know how to sew. I like to sew. So I was used to reconfiguring things and taking them apart and putting them back together. And creating my own look. Anyone who's known me for a while knows that I've always been sort of my own person. Even when, you know, it's been a challenge to be that.
And so for me, starting this, is who I am. And I just started talking about shopping. Going to Straw Bridges. How I fixed this necklace that I bought for $2 and how I added some beads to it and made it look like a completely different look.
And so everyone thought I was crazy in the beginning. Really, the three or four people read it, like my mom, my husband, a lady in Detroit, who to this day is still one of my biggest fans.
I was right about the Isaac Mizrahi line at Target. When I landed, it was the first year it landed at Target. And it was revolutionary at the time. Because, again, no one was thinking that. There had been examples of designers in the past. Like Halston had a line at J.C. Penney's in the day. The lady at K Mart who is like amazing. Jacqueline Smith, yes. Amazing. She had a line at K Mart for like 20 years.
But in 2003, when we were all trying to be bling blingy, it was a real risk to do that line at Target. I also talked about DSW because I'm obsessed about DSW and shoes.
I was like no one even knew what a blog was. A lot of people didn't even have personal computers in 2003, at least not personal computers hooked up to the Internet. So I'm like no one's paying attention to me, whatever. I'm just doing this for fun.
And then in December of 2003, the Associated Press called me. And at the time, I had no idea what the scope of Associated Press was. Oh, yeah, AP, you know. But I had no idea that it went to like every newspaper. I was like, you know, oh, okay, sure, it will be fun to do an interview. And it was about people who travel to go to sample sales and what do I find at sample sales and things like that. If you find the article, which is actually online, it will say that I lived in Pittsburgh -- which I didn't live in Pittsburgh, I was living in Philadelphia, so that would have been a very long distance to travel from Pittsburgh to New York.
But then on January 1st, 2004, the article went online and it literally changed my life overnight. Literally.
And so I actually got my book deal in late 2004. I was -- just to back up a little bit. I was approached by a literary agent who had heard me speak at some like event about like clothing, and was like have you ever thought about writing a book? And I'm like, sure, like how does one do that? Like it doesn't seem like it's the same as writing like a blog post. It seems like it's pretty intensive.
And then we got the book deal at Random House. That's me at my first sort of book event at Barnes & Noble in the Mall of America in Minneapolis. For me it was a very emotional event, because my first job was at the Mall of America. And to have an event there for my book, I'm getting like emotional now. It was just -- talk about coming full circle. It was just really special. It was really special.
And so the book came out. It's currently in its ninth printing. And it's been in lots of languages and stuff like that.
Thank you. I really, I really do appreciate that.
>> LISA STONE: How many books do you have out now?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: We have one. Another one's coming out. Actually two are supposed to come out back to back. And it has to do with television stuff. The books don't have anything to do with television stuff, when they're going to be released has to do with television stuff.
>> LISA STONE: So you'll let us know?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: We'll talk about that more.
>> LISA STONE: Ree, how many books do you have in the market now? A zillion?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Three.
>> LISA STONE: It's only three, woman.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Ree's the woman. So that book led to lots and lots of TV. One of the things that you'll notice in your journey is sometimes you find a skill that you didn't even know you had. Like, I started doing television and I was like I like this. Wow, I didn't know that I'm actually kind of good. Like, I really had no clue. I did not start off to be on TV or to write books. Because when I started, no one was on TV or writing books from a blog. And so it led to all these TV appearances, which were fun. And then it led to our anniversary bash and to meeting cool people and becoming friends with cool people. And then led to where I'm at right now. And we're working on a TV show, as well.
And, again, getting back to who you are, for me, we were asked several times through the years to do a television show, particularly a docusoap. Do you know what that is? It's like the Real Housewives. And we came close. It was a moment about three years ago, we got a call from a very cool network to do a docusoap, a docufollow on my life. And I had to like, I'm very -- I'm a church lady. And I have to really go and pray on it because it was like do I really want people to follow my life?
First of all, I don't think my life is all that interesting for anybody to watch. And do I want people in my business like that? And what about my family? And so I talked to my family and they were like, we don't want to be on television. We have absolutely no desire to be on TV.
My husband, who is, again, the nice tech nerd, was like, look, I don't want them, I don't want the cameras in our house. I want our relationship to remain off television. What we have is good. I don't want to be a celebrity. I don't want to be a star. I don't want anybody to look at me. But I will support you 100 percent in what you want to do. At that time I had to say no. And it was one of the most difficult thing for me to do, because you have this opportunity that could totally and would have totally changed our lives. But it wasn't the right opportunity.
And one of the things I would say to you is feel empowered to say no. Learn to sometimes love that word. Because not everything, every opportunity is going to be right for you. And that, again, goes back to knowing who you are and who your brand is and what you stand for.
And I'm like, you know, my brand isn't about being fabulous and arguing with people. I don't do that. Like that's not who I am. I don't argue with people. I'd rather walk away, you know. And so that's not who I am.
But what's strangely enough is, so I went on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. My friend was like you're smart, go on there. I did okay. It was fun. My main goal was to be on there like two episodes so I could have an outfit change. I know that's like really …
>> LISA STONE: That's very on with your personal brand, I think.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I'm like, I need outfits. And it's so interesting, as a result of being on the show, production company had contacted us and was like do you know what? We want to do a show with you. We like who you are and who you stand for.
And I had a really honest talk with them and said: This is what I need to have a show. I have to have -- I have to be an executive producer on it. Because especially being who I am, being an African American woman, I need to be able to control the image that was going to be out there. And this is true regardless of your color. Having that ability to control your image and your brand is very, very important. And I gave them this whole long list. These people are not going to agree to any of this. They were like fine. I was like oh.
And that's another lesson I learned. Like, don't be afraid to ask. If you know who you are and what you want and what you need, like don't be afraid to say it. I mean you don't have to be mean about it or anything like that, but, you know, feel okay saying if I'm going to do this, I need to be able to have: Time for my children or if you expect me to go for a week to look at your widget and test out your widget and that means I can't be with my children and I have to pay for childcare or my husband or partner is going to be inconvenienced, I need some compensation so that we're not coming out of pocket to help you. It's okay to say that. You should say that. Feel confident enough in saying that.
>> LISA STONE: So when I ask: What's the name of the show that you're working on and when do we get to see it? And is it on AOL?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: No, it's not going to be on AOL. It's going to be called The Budget Fashionista.
>> LISA STONE: Okay.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: And I can't talk that much about it, because television is really weird, as Ree could probably tell you. The contracts are very interesting on what you can say and what you cannot say. And the crazy clauses.
>> LISA STONE: Just ignore that.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: But, yeah, it's going to be very awesome. I'm very excited. And it's very much who I am.
>> LISA STONE: When it's it airing?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: It's going to be next year.
>> LISA STONE: Can you tell us the production company? You'll tell us later?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Yes. I don't want to say it. You know them, that's why I don't want to
>> LISA STONE: So we'll need cable?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Yes, it's going to be cable.
>> LISA STONE: We'll be able to watch it on our little screens?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: That's part of the deal with them. Is that -- again, it goes back to everything I do is content and it's related to The Budget Fashionista. Like it has to be accessible. It has to be accessible to everyone. I don't want just people … because I don't have cable myself. Which, when we were talking to different networks, they were like hear the heads were spinning when I said that. I said dude, we watch Hulu and Netflix, we don't need cable. What is that? And that was really interesting.
But one thing I will say, so one of the production companies that contacted us like a while ago sent this crazy contract. And I always talk about this because when you get to do when people ask you to be on TV and things like that and if you haven't already, they probably will start to ask you to do that make sure you have like a lawyer who understands things. It is very much worth the money.
So we had this one contract sent to us by a very well known network. And one of the clauses in it was -- the gist was like, we can make you look crazy and there's nothing you can do about it. That's pretty much what they were saying. They're like things that may or may not be true may be said about you. I was like would anyone say this? May or may not be true. We can cut it, we can edit it to make the situation that may or may not have happened. And you have no rights in the entire like known and unknown universe. That's like my favorite phrase, "known and unknown universe."
>> LISA STONE: At which point they're aiming at technologies that haven't yet come to market, right? Seriously.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I thought universe was everything, right? I didn't know there was like wow, there's some unknown universes out there. But, again, like making sure that you -- obviously we didn't do it, for many reasons. But making sure that you have an attorney who understands that. And making sure that you understand what you're getting into.
And it's not just with media, but it's other things, too. Because I've had a lot of blogger, blogger friends and colleagues contact me, ask me questions about some of the crazy contracts they're getting from people. Like this ridiculous contract. Like we can take all your content and we give you like $10.
Stuff like that.
>> LISA STONE: So I want to give Ree an opportunity to chime in, because you have a show that's about to air on the Food Network and you've also had, it's been reported, that Sony pictures has options your novel to make into a movie. So tell us a little bit the status on those.
And then I'd like for you guys to recommend the following services and whether or not you think they need to be invested in as you grow your blog.
And we'll get to that slide in a minute. I'm sort of looking for it right now about investment in the blog.
But you've mentioned an attorney. Attorney to me means getting your business practices right, which may mean an accountant, which raises the whole issue of how do you develop your infrastructure so your personal banking et cetera is separate from your business banking. The whole series of issues here that I can comment on from the BlogHer perspective. But why don't you talk about your shows and anything Kathryn said resonated with you or anything additional you would add.
>> REE DRUMMOND: I could just listen to Kathryn. I'm sitting here enjoying listening.
Guys, I did not have a problem saying these things, but I'm going to have to adjust my body shaping camisole real quick.
>> LISA STONE: Do what you have to do, girl.
>> REE DRUMMOND: I didn't want to do it while you were speaking. I'm sorry to keep bringing it up. It's one of those slippery ones. It's down here and all of a sudden I was sitting here and it went (pop) so I can't concentrate on what I have to say. I had to pull it down. I'm such a professional as you can see.
You know, it's so funny. I mean, to be a BlogHer and to remember back to 2007 when I had been blogging for a year, I was actually on a little panel at that BlogHer. And when I was asked to be on the panel, I was like why are they asking me to be on a panel? But it was about storytelling and kind of telling engaging stories.
And I was on that panel with a published author. And she and I sort of hit it off. And she introduced me to her editor. And it was that introduction that led me to do a cookbook. And of course I never imagined when I started my blog that it would lead to a book, let alone a cookbook. But she just got what I was trying to do with cooking. I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel. I just wanted to make it fun and accessible. And if I can do it, you can do it type of thing.
So the cookbook was quite an experience. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know how to create a manuscript full of my photos and my texts and that sort of thing. And I almost gave up on it midway through because it was cutting into my content. And there we go back to the -- you know, it was sort of infringing on what I wanted to do, which was blog every day.
I did push through it. And what happened with the cookbook was that it opened up more opportunities that were sort of more mainstream television appearances and magazine mentions and things that probably wouldn't have happened just with my website alone.
So that is one thing that a book can do. I would not tell anyone like James Patterson or prolific authors that you can't make a living off of publishing books, because obviously you can. But I know there's also this thinking that a book is sort of the ticket to wealth and riches. And that's just not … generally not the truth about publishing books. But what it does for a blogger or website owner is it does open doors for more exposure for your website or brand. So it is kind of the worthwhile activity if you can balance getting the book done with keeping your blog engine running and your website going.
So I never had a television appearance before my book came out. And so that was a fun experience.
Before my cookbook came out, there was one article, that was the L.A. Times and my friend Renee Lynch.
>> LISA STONE: She's here at BlogHer.
>> REE DRUMMOND: We're such good friends I didn't know she was here.
>> LISA STONE: She probably knows more about blogging than anyone on the national desk of a daily. She got advanced to the national desk. She's definitely worth your while to speak with. I'll look up her Twitter handle. She's an excellent, trustworthy reporter. Go ahead.
>> REE DRUMMOND: This was an article in the food section of the L.A. Times. My cookbook actually had not come out yet, it was a month away from coming out. And the team at Sony Pictures that did Julie & Julia. I read the article and they of course -- people in Hollywood just read newspapers and think "where's the story here, where's the story"?
>> LISA STONE: SEO, like really, really. We'll come back to that, remind me. I will go there.
>> REE DRUMMOND: Where was I?
>> LISA STONE: Renee.
>> REE DRUMMOND: So I got a call from the gals at Sony Pictures. And basically to make a very long story short, I was like what? Come on. I live in Oklahoma on a ranch. I have four kids and love handles. And this is not interesting. But they did start reading my online Harlequin romance-meets-ranch. So they optioned that story.
In my mind, that was -- we went to reserve the right to make a movie within three years if we feel like it. And I knew they would do a fun job with it because they said it would be sort of romantic comedy. But I said yes. That was done. And then I just went on with my life. And I thought well they'll let me know if they're going to make a movie. So I didn't tell a soul except my husband, of course.
But one morning in March of I think it was 2010, I woke up and I had all these emails from my college friends. And they were like what in the heck? A movie's being made of your life. So they had put a press release about the option. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have ever said a word about it. But I think it's still in development right now, but my focus has kind of remained on my site.
I worked on a children's book about my belligerent basset hound named Charlie. And working on my second cookbook. And then this Food Network opportunity came up.
It actually came up right before my cookbook came out. And at the time, I did not want to do a cooking show. I thought: That is way too establishment for me. And what would I have to offer? I don't want to stand behind a counter and cook. There's so many people that can do that better than me.
So over time, it marinated. And, finally, when they said they would come to the ranch and do the show, I said okay, now this is something I can think about because I have to filter everything through where I have to stay and what I have to do with my daily life in order to stay happy, strong, focused. And I had had enough experiences with traveling with the book tour and various other things that when I was away from home, I start to shrivel. I'm like errrr. It's like a big plug that comes out of my gut when I'm away from home. I'm okay now, sitting up here, don't worry. I'm not going to decompensate before your eyes.
But, anyway, that's just sort of the what's going on.
>> LISA STONE: So knowing your two careers to date the way I do and having talked with you behind the scenes, one of the things that we tried to do is come up with a plan for how to take your blogs, your nascent media companies to the next level, whatever level you want that to be personally.
Now, one of the things that Kathryn and Ree have said repeatedly and we'll say repeatedly is that it's a central three to blog, day in and day out. And one of the things that many women write about and you all have talked about is writer's block. How to get time management, organization and delegation going on.
But before we get to this issue, I wanted to go back and pick up the pace a little bit and talk about the ways in which when you are blogging day in and out, you can reach people like the Renee Lynches of the world. Like your readers with great content. So, we talked about everything from SEO to social networks to link exchanges to shaking your tail feathers.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Whenever I think of content and what to do with it, I always think of that one guy from the wire, from Wired magazine. What is his name who did the free book? I'm sorry, I'm like so bad with names. No, not Seth Golden. Okay. So the dude who wrote the book from Wired. He's from Wired magazine.
>> You mean Long Tail?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: No. It's called Free. It's about free stuff. Chris Anderson. Thank you so much. Sorry, Chris Anderson, wherever you are.
He wrote a book about Free. And one of the statements that he has in there, he talks about content. And how content really wants to be free.
Now, we can, you know, have a discussion about that or not, but that really sort of hit me. And so when we look at particularly syndicators or building partnerships with people, I look at it as a fact that wow, that means that my content can go to more people. And so I encourage people to definitely look at building partnerships. And there's a couple of ways that we do it.
One, again, I learned how to do SEO. It is fairly simple to do. I mean, a title tag and a meta description. That's pretty much the two things that you just need to know how to do. You can do it. You do not need to hire anyone. You do not need to hire anyone. I want to like stress that. And, you know, just making sure that your posts are relevant.
If you are a person who writes -- we tend to not write as personal on TBF as far as like our personal lives or anything like that, but more sort of service pieces, pieces that help people. How to shop at Talbot's to how to wear a certain dress to how to balance your budget, things like that. You want to make sure that some key words in there that you're using. It shouldn't be stuffed. It should be natural.
And then in terms of syndicators, we syndicate our content to a lot of people. Pretty much anyone who wants to syndicate it, we're pretty okay as long as you have a goal that is in line with ours.
It's really been interesting that we start to get people, major brands, who want to syndicate our content. And that's become very interesting.
>> LISA STONE: You also have people putting content on your site. Like I picked up this from Lucky magazine.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: We have a partnership with Lucky, a long-term partnership where we're one of the contributors to their blog and they contribute something to TBF.
>> Syndicate [Inaudible].
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: There are a couple ways in which syndication can work. We have a new partnership that we're just I guess I'm announcing here with Bluefly.
>> LISA STONE: Nice.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Who is going to be taking some content from TBF and putting it on their Flypaper blog. That's a long term thing. They're doing a closet confession. I'm not sure if you're familiar with closet confessions. Where you go in your closet and talk about what's in your closet. All this fun stuff. We have another way to do it which is with Lucky who we've worked it for years now.
>> LISA STONE: Magazine.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Yeah. And where we write for, like I do a lot of posts for them. And then they also will take something from them once a week and put it on TBF. That's been really successful because our readers really like it and they really like, you know, Lucky.
And then we have another. We do a thing called link love. Which now it will be seven days a week where we've we just take links from partners, people who have fellow, sort of fellow fashion bloggers, Budget Babe, Frugalista, all of these wonderful women who are also doing content about living great for less. I think that was actually the slide before. A few goodie gumdrops. Fab over 40, which is an awesome site. And we just sort of exchange links with each other. It's pretty, pretty simple. Pretty straightforward.
And what that does is it helps both of us get traffic. It doesn't take anything away from us. It doesn't take anything away from our partners. And we all sort of share in the love.
And I love it because it shows how blogging is very different than other forms of media. And a lot of people have asked me questions about this who are in traditional media. Because they're like why would you put a link to someone else's site? And I'm like well why wouldn't I? They have great content, I have great content. Let's all have great content together.
>> LISA STONE: I think that that's a really great point. I know that, Ree, you have a long list of blogs on your home page that you actually tend to rotate. You've got a whole group of them. Can you talk a little bit in the food community in particular what the cross linking does for the community?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Yeah, I mean, the food blogging community, Lori, who can attest to this, is a pretty tight knit group.
My first experience with this, just how food sort of creates opportunities for overlap and sharing, I started a website in 2009 called Tasty Kitchen. The reason I started it, this was sort of the way the other sections of my site evolved, the cooking and photography and home and garden, it came out of the need. And I had a contest on the cooking section of my website. I can't remember what I gave away. But in order to enter, someone had to leave one of their favorite recipes as a comment to enter the contest. And I think it was -- this was back in '08, I think that I got like 5,000 entries. Each entry was a recipe. So and these were everybody's sort of favorite recipes. And I was like great, what do I do now?
People were like "I wish there were a way to index these" and "I wish I could search these 5,000 comments for recipes." So then I thought oh, that's it. I want one of those recipe submission sites so people can actually submit their favorites. So that's where the idea was born.
It was over a year later when I launched it, but Tasty Kitchen is sort of like All Recipes' little punk sister. It's not going to be what All Recipes is. But it's a very cozy, very supportive community. And I get Emails saying "I only go to Tasty Kitchen for recipes."
But then what I did was I started improving how contributors to the site are highlighted. And I just launched a new design of Tasty Kitchen where the profile page for each member prominently displays their own website link, their Twitter, their Facebook. And then when they submit a recipe, a lot of members of Tasty Kitchen are food bloggers.
So if they submit a recipe, say, for caramel brownies, they may already have that on their site as a more step by step type post. And they just submit the final photo and printable recipe to Tasty Kitchen. But they can put a link to their brownie post on their site. So there's a lot of kind of link love back and forth. And it benefits everyone, really.
I think that is what sets apart blogging from traditional media and why there's such a heartbeat in blogging. Yes?
>> (inaudible question).
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Well, I can say that we have not -- well, let me back up. I actually like it when we can have a blog that maybe isn't as popular as The Budget Fashionista that we can give some link love to, that people should read and that I think our readers should know about.
We have not found that our page ranking has gone down in any way, shape or form. And even if it did, I'm not sure if I would care so much.
The thing about Google and SEO and stuff, and I learned this this year when we had a major DNS attack on our site is that, excuse my language, I'm going to swear, I have a potty mouth, I really don't give a shit about them so much as more of creating relationships and maintaining the community and helping people and blogs that should have attention. I don't think there is … I have not … I gain much more by being generous like that than I've had from, you know, any negative impact that has possibly happened.
>> (inaudible audience comment).
>> REE DRUMMOND: I can't believe I'm about to say this, and Elise Bauer will disown me as a friend.
>> We won't tell her.
>> REE DRUMMOND: But I have never taken one step toward improving or maintaining my SEO for the same reason that I do not use a flash with my camera. And that's because I don't know how to use it. And I don't get SEO and I don't like the feeling that I'm having to stay on top of something. I don't like racing for tickets to a movie. I have these issues.
So I'm saying this not to discourage you from implementing SEO improvement steps, but I am saying it to give you permission not to prioritize that.
You know, again, you guys are going to pull me off the stage if I say the word content again, but if you build your content and your community, a lot of my recipes are on the first page of Google searches through no steps of my own. So I just wanted to throw that in there. And no disrespect to the steps you have taken at all.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: And I think it also goes back to the type of blogging you do. TBF isn't so much about me. It's really more service pieces. Like here is how to do these sort of things.
And if you are newly starting out, you have to do something to have people find you. And it could be SEO or it could be having partnerships with other people. But people have to get to your content. If you're looking at your blog as a media company, people have to have a way to get to you. They have to have a way to know that you exist. And doing really simple SEO, and what I mean by simple, it's literally just putting a title tag in.
I mean, WordPress has that little space there. It takes you all of like one second to put your title tag in and like a short description. And you'll be amazed about how much that will help you get your content out there, get people to find you.
We're lucky. We started relatively early. It wasn't as many people. When I started, there was like three fashion blogs. I think it was Fashion Tribes, myself and maybe a very early version of She Finds. It was like way back in the day. So we didn't have as much competition.
But the world that you guys are in, particularly if you're looking as it as a media company, you have a lot of competition, frankly, for people's eyeballs and attention, so you have to have something that gets people to you.
>> LISA STONE: Well I think that that's a good segue to this. I mean, I can tell you that our -- since 2005, our approach when we've been developing a publishing network that now reaches 25 million uniques every month is that we did not care about the quantity of users the blogs in our network reach. We now publish almost 3,000.
We cared about the quality. Because our study of the user -- and I've been working online. I left CNN and print in 1997 -- has proven that it is a marathon relationship with the reader. The more she finds value, the more she trusts, the more she comes back, the more she shares it with a friend.
So if this small blogger that you link to is the single best key lime pie blogger in the world, your readers will thank you, right? And her readers will love you for raising their favorite blogger's profile. So it is a marathon.
And relationships with each other I think is what allowed so many successful blogs here in this room but also up here on this stage to continue to grow, expand and become companies even as entirely new technologies came to the space.
So Kathryn started before Facebook was started and before Twitter was even a twinkle only in business eyes. So it's coming next for you guys. I mean look what's happening, the Kindle's giving way to the iPad. And what you're doing in relationships to readers are going to supersede whatever new gizmo can be sold to her at Best Buy next.
And so that's why I love the advice on blogging day in and day out. Yes, you have to do SEO and be able to be found. And the article that I put as an exercise on that page, the link to Elise Bauer's How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog. SEO doesn't have to be rocket science but what is really hard is making yourself write every single day.
>> REE DRUMMOND: In a nutshell, back to the getting people to your site, one thing I want to add to my terrible SEO advice I just gave, which was "don't do it!" Another reason I didn't do it is that worrying about that made blogging not fun for me.
And where was I going with this? Oh. So early on, it wasn't a mission statement, but it was I don't want people to come to my site; I want them to come and I want them to stay and I want them to come back tomorrow.
And so there are so many tricks to getting traffic, but it's all sort of treading water if you don't give the people who come a reason to come back tomorrow. So you might sort of just keep that in mind.
And, in fact, I apply that any time I was on TV, I made sure that every section of my site was at the top of its game. I put a new recipe up. I tried to write a funny story or post a new photo. Because to me, that felt like I had shined my shoes and I was putting my best face forward.
>> LISA STONE: You know, it's interesting that you say that the Tarrant Figlio or that woman on Twitter wrote a quick tweet saying a fresh blog post is more important than your shoes this week at BlogHer '11.
Right? It really sort of narrowed it down.
The other thing is that -- and we talk a lot about this, the three of us -- is you don't necessarily have to do SEO yourself. In fact, you may need to seriously decide where you're going to invest on your site. Because if you're growing into a media company, you must invest on your site. Some of that may be investing in childcare so that you can have time to work on it, right?
But we came up with a list: Development costs, distributor payments, design work, growing and changing your blog, which you both talked about, creating time to write, the laundry is my personal nightmare. And you all said spend the money where it makes the most sense.
So I wonder if you guys could talk a little bit about how did you make those decisions for your companies?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Well, I did like everything wrong in the beginning, I'm going to be really, really honest.
>> LISA STONE: I can tell that from your career to date, Kathy.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: It's really like luck and the grace of God that I'm here. You know, because one of the things that about being sort of first and "oh he understands about my mistakes" is that you don't he's adorable is that you don't have a blueprint, so you often do things just by the seat of your pants or, you know, without really any clear reason why you're doing it.
So we spent way too much money and way too much time in the beginning redesigning, redesigning, redesigning, redesigning. And that's something that I've noticed with like fellow blog friends is that "I've got to redesign my blog." We're doing a new blog design every year. When it's really the content that matters.
The design of your blog is important. It should look good. But you don't need to redesign it every year or every week. Because what that does is you start to get distracted from what really matters, which is the content. And that was a point that happened with us.
In terms of contributor payment, you know, we had contributors back in the day, and it was really difficult because they didn't understand the nature of blogging and it was really kind of unfair because you have these great writers who were used to getting paid totally what they're worth. But the economics of blogging doesn't allow you to pay a contributor, you know, $5,000 to write, you know, 500 words. It just doesn't allow you to do that.
And it's really interesting how that sort of has changed throughout the years. So that was something that we had to really work with and figure out a way to give people who contribute to us something that's equitable, something that they needed. Maybe it wasn't always money. Maybe it was more links. Or maybe it was advice or what have you. But that's something that is always a sticky issue.
In creating time to write, I found that I write best in the morning. I get up before everyone else. And I just start to plug away. I don't have children yet, so I'm fortunate in that sense that I can get up in the morning and do it.
But I think it's finding the time where you feel the most motivated. And if that's doing laundry, if it's 2 a.m. at night. I have a friend that writs at 2 a.m. For whatever reason she's most inspired at 2 a.m. God bless her.
But it's finding the time where you're the most creative. It may be on your morning commute to work. It may be at noon at lunch. But wherever you feel most creative.
And in giving yourself the tools to write at that time period. So if you're at work, making sure that you maybe have an iPad or your cell phone's enabled so that you can actually write when you're actually most motivated to write.
But, yeah, we did it all completely wrong. I spent money on this shit that I did not need to spend money on.
Focus on the content. Wait to do any sort of professional design until you actually have an idea of like who you are and what you want to do and what your brand is, you know. There's great templates on Word Press that are free. Just use those. I mean seriously.
Is your content that people are going to -- it's your content that people are going to care about, it's not so much your design.
>> LISA STONE: Thanks, Kathryn. Thoughts on that? Because you are very design focused, Ree.
>> REE DRUMMOND: Yeah. I don't know where to start. I have so much to say about all of this. I'll try to keep it really brief.
First of all, if you want to grow your site, if you want to take it into new frontiers, you're going to have to put money into your site. Now, I don't mean mortgage your house and use that to finance your blog. But if you start to monetize your site, it may be a while before you actually take any of that money home.
If you want to grow -- I think I made advertising dollars for 2 1/2, three years before I actually had money left over. I just poured it into my site and design work. I wanted my site to look good. I wanted it to function well. And I have absolutely no skills in that department. So that is something that I decided was worth spending money on.
If you are more into the big picture vision of your site and more managerial, it might make sense to spend money on contributors so that you have content.
It's been and I do have contributors on the Tasty Kitchen blog and photography and my home schooling section I have contributors. And I do pay them, not a pittance. Because I'm a blogger. And I know the blood, sweat and tears it takes to write and to create something good and high quality. So I pay my contributors well.
But the technical side of things is not my department.
Now, the photography is all mine. And that's something that I don't have to spend money on, on the creative, the images.
And early on, when I did first start making a little bit of advertising revenue, I got a new lens. And then I upgraded my camera. And, yes, I'm sure I got some things that, you know, "I need this for my blogging," but, you know, not necessarily.
So that's a little bit of the harsh reality is that even when money starts coming in, if you don't want to just platform plateau and stay where you are, it will kind of require you to keep finding ways and I don't mean just throw money everywhere, but find figure out what you are best at. And fill in the pieces with your resources.
What were we talking about at the end? I have these little revelations and then I don't
>> LISA STONE: Well, I think that you hit on something on with what are your strengths. We are going to get to the whole kitchen cabinet aspect of figuring out what your strengths are in a little bit.
I think that I put up this link about when should you design your own blog? When should you hire one? This is a great one woman's opinion on how to make that decision. There are some great links around the web where you'll find out. Because when you are making the decision what your strengths are and what you're going to assign out, assigning it out in a way that is prudent, appropriate and going to get you what you are looking for is another issue, as well.
So one of the things that actually the BlogHer team has talked about is coming up with sort of some set agreements that people could have if they wanted to hire a designer. Here's your PDF. If you wanted to hire a coding person, here's the way you could do it. There are -- BizFilings is a site where you can go get small contracts. But it is important, I think, to do it by the book in order to get what you want on deadline and to the price that you've asked for.
>> And also so that both parties know what's expected.
>> LISA STONE: There's no such thing as too much detail.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: And what the expectations are. There are people that money is not their motivation. Some people may want to write for your site because they love your site. Or maybe they have their own site and they want your help in getting traffic.
You know, it's really -- everyone has different motivations. And that's something that I found really interesting when we were working with contributors is that some of them want money. Like some of them just want to get clips for their portfolio and to be able to say that they wrote for The Budget Fashionista or for The Pioneer Woman helps them get their next job. Some just want access maybe to you. Maybe you have an expertise that they would otherwise have to pay a lot of money to get. So there's different motivations. I think it's really communicating what your contributors, what it is that they want and what they hope to gain from it and being very clear and putting that in writing. Writing is really, really important.
>> (inaudible audience comment) blogging to media platform URL make decisions to do that, figure out your identity and what your plan is and all that, but what point [Inaudible]
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Well, you know, interesting about that. I say that do that as soon as possible. And here's why. I don't know if you've ever read sort of the legalese language. I'm a reader. Like the fine print. I like to read the fine print. I also like to fill out forms, which is a whole other weird obsession of mine.
But like if you read the fine print of like WordPress and TypePad, there's some really weird language in there that -- I'm paraphrasing, but like "we kind of own you" and stuff like that. Yeah, like "we kind of own you" and the known and unknown universe going back to that.
And because I feel really uncomfortable about that, so I always suggest get your URL from GoDaddy. It's $10 a year. It's not like a super great investment. In that you feel comfortable that you own where your content is at. There's not some crazy legal mumbo jumbo that you may or may not have to deal with in the known or unknown universal future. So I would suggest do that as soon as possible.
>> LISA STONE: I think a real URL also conveys a little bit of professionalism that you're serious about this and it's ours.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Yes. 100 percent.
>> Good luck finding one, though. It's hard to find a URL you want.
>> (inaudible audience comment).
>> LISA STONE: One thing I do, I have several design milestones throughout the history of my site. Starting with BlogHer. And I had the most basic template. Because even then I kind of wanted a little bit of clean factor. But let's see, I don't know when it was. Heather Sanders who is here.
>> Oh my stinking hack?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Yes. She's a designer. And I emailed her and I said I want a big girl site. I want a real site and not a template site. And so she designed my first big girl site. And I had used that as an opportunity to bump up the development side of things, the functionality side of things. So that's when I had a little dropdown category menu, things that I didn't have on my template. And I customized the way titles looked and things like that.
But when I did my first thepioneerwoman.com, where it had several sections, I used that not just to redesign the look of the site but to bump up the functionality even more.
And when you were talking earlier about don't redesign your site every six months, that really does make sense. Wait. And as you're thinking redesign, colors and fonts and how it's going to look, think about, okay, how can I improve it?
We came up with the carousel. It was an earlier incarnation of it. But the one you see on the main page of my site now where it sort of fades in and out of each of the sections of my site, that's development as opposed to design. So that there are differences.
>> LISA STONE: Sure. Developer equals engineering, right?
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: Yeah. I just say that because I married a developer. Design is the way the site looks. Development is the way it functions. I mean that's pretty much the best way to sort of define it.
There are people who are brilliant designers who cannot do development, right? And then there's developers who are brilliant developers. I mean they can put all sorts of widgety codes and stuff like that, but they can't design.
So sometimes they're two separate people.
In the beginning, you don't really need a lot. I mean, we use WordPress. The New York Times uses WordPress. A lot of people are run off of WordPress. And we just use the widgets that work for us. And we use the plugins and widgets.
We may alter them a little bit, but when you're starting out, there's e great plug ins, par particularly on the Word Press platform that are free that you don't have to hire a developer to do and you can implement. Just like there's great templates, just tweak a little bit. Maybe you have a graphic designer design a logo for you. Or maybe just your header and that's bit. But you don't have to spend a lot of money to convey the type of blog that you want to convey.
>> LISA STONE: Yes, Ma'am.
>> (inaudible audience comment).
>> LISA STONE: Great question. While you all think about that hard question. Let me ask: When people ask their individual questions, can everyone hear them? Okay, good. We do have a microphone in the middle of the room, but I hate the forced march to the microphone. Not everybody wants to go up and go over there. Okay. Take it away.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I think for me, I have to think of the point. It was probably when I got the book deal. Because before then, like I really was not -- TBF was not a company. I mean, it really wasn't. It was me writing about shopping. I mean, that's pretty much what it was. I think we maybe had a Google ad or two that we didn't know how to correctly place or use.
I don't think -- actually, a funny story. Like we didn't get like any money from Google for like six months. And I'm like oh, my gosh, why do we have these ads up? We had like, the tag wrong. It was something that we weren't thinking in that way.
But it was when I got the book deal when I was like wow, this is something that could be something. Like it's something bigger than just me shopping and me writing about it and me, you know. It was starting to get into another platform.
I think if I could boil it down, it was when TBF moved to another platform when I was like wow, okay this is something. This is turning into being a company.
>> LISA STONE: Any thoughts on that?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Yeah. It's hard for me to answer that because for me it's all kind of relative every step of the way. There's always kind of when you grow beyond the point where you just were, you think you kind of notice that things are changing.
But sitting up here, I don't think I have a media company. When you asked me to take part in this session, I sort of thought well Kathryn's going to be the real media company person and I'm just going to talk about how I started my blog and what the evolution was.
So there has never really been that one moment where I thought, you know, I am where I want to be. Because I'm still always kind of thinking what can I do next? Usually on my site because a lot of opportunities and things I could cook up involve a lot of travel and take me away from home, but, yeah, it's all kind of steps. And a series of things I could point to, probably.
>> LISA STONE: Since monetizing your -- oh, I'm sorry. Okay. And we had two hands up at once. I want to emphasize because it's a couple of minutes before noon that the afternoon session will be all about your questions. And you all are committed to making sure that everybody gets a chance to ask a question. And I am willing to stay and be timekeeper dominatrix. Timeinatrix.
>> LISA STONE: The number two priority that many of you mentioned was monetizing your blog. And I think that this discussion feeds right into getting paid for great content because what I can tell you that I've learned is that a fantastic quality conversation grows readers and eventually attracts sponsors.
So when you have a consistent, excellent voice on a well-designed, well-articulated blog, whatever it's doing, you end up having -- and it's sort of summarized on this slide -- sponsors will want to work with you.
And then you have the other series of potentially tough conversations, which are how to value your time, and Kathryn sort of teased about it earlier, how to have the conversation with bloggers about the fact that your time is money, how to deal with disclosure and transparency.
And then I had just a series of links that I thought might be good take aways for after.
Is there a jumping off point for lunch for people to be able to think about on monetizing the blog? Because what's so interesting is you both said "I really did not start out to form a media company" and yet I have to say you are both running them.
>> KATHRYN FINNEY: I think the thing just to think about is how you value yourself and how you value what you do.
As someone once said to me: If you don't value yourself, no one else is going to value you. And I think that goes through a lot of things that we experience in life. But especially in blogging or business or whatever, you sort of wherever you consider yourself at right now.
It's the thing I would encourage people to think about during lunch is: How do you value yourself? You know, what is important to you? What is important to you in your life? And what is important to you in terms of your blogging?
Ree brought up that being home is very important to her. And being with her family is very important to her. And if that is the case for you, then you have to ask yourself: Well if something is taking me away from this, perhaps that thing needs to somehow replace that value. If I'm going to have to leave or not be around the things that I care about, the things that are very important to me, then I need to somehow be compensated for that. Like I need to be given something for that, otherwise I would just stay at home and chill with my family and have a great time.
Those are the things that you have to think about, what value you put on that. If I have to be away from my husband and my friends and my family, I actually think like what is that worth to me? Because I would rather hang out with him and have fun and pal around our house. But those are the things that I would encourage you to think about especially about during lunch, about this value and what you feel you are worth. It's a hard thing.
>> LISA STONE: That was good. I agree. I concur, sir.
I have an exercise, a fun exercise. So if we had to -- if you had to pick either of the two following descriptions to apply to your own situation, would it be: I know exactly what I want my site, my company, my brand to be; I just need to figure out how to get there? Or, I'm not quite sure where I want to go with this and I'd like to figure it out?
So which of you would fall into the first category? I know exactly where I want to go with this? Right on, I'm seeing maybe half the hands.
And then how many of you are kind of searching for how to define your site? Han how to figure out?
>> Yeah. Maybe a third.
>> REE DRUMMOND: One thing that might be kind of a fun little exercise during lunch or later this afternoon. I wish we had a big white board. Can we just write on the walls?
We could have a painting party tonight.
What about this? I don't know if we can write or get a white board, but you can certainly hookup a computer and just like type into a screen or write into a screen.
>> REE DRUMMOND: Well, it might be kind of fun. And even those of you who already have the clear vision for what you want to be, it's kind of fun to sometimes say: I want to be the next so and so. But tweak it a little bit.
Like I described my love story I wrote as green acres meets Harlequin romance. Sometimes I throw in
like meets the godfather.
But the reason I bring this up is someone emailed me a couple years ago and says "I think of you as Mabel Stewart."
And I thought …
>> LISA STONE: As opposed to Martha Stewart?
>> REE DRUMMOND: Yeah. She said I think of you as my own Mabel Stewart. That's cute. I certainly have different subject matter that's sort of similar to Martha Stewart's, but I'm so not Martha Stewart, as you would see if you came over at my house and looked in my drawers and my closet and my laundry room. But I always thought that was kind of cute to kind of figure out I want to be the next so and so but tweak it to make it yours.
So if anybody's brave enough to throw some of those out this afternoon, it might be kind of funny.
>> LISA STONE: I love that idea because I think that what these two are really talking about is what we have found at BlogHer is that you have to build your own kitchen cabinet, right? There are official advisors and there are experts in the field and then there are other people who really know you and care about you and understand what makes you tick and what makes you happy. I am not necessarily talking about the person you kiss every night before you go to bed. I'm talking about people who accept you and come to you on that level as a colleague and as a professional. Because some of the most damaging stories I've heard from bloggers is "oh my husband hated it" or "oh my girlfriend hated it."
No. We're talking about what makes you feel good, your big dreams, your big goals for you and how your blogging colleagues can help encourage you.
One of the things women have told us for seven years now is the smartest people and the best advice they get is usually from the women sitting right next to them. And so this afternoon, you're going to have the opportunity.
Now, I'm -- those white tablecloths and thinking about Sharpies and wondering if there's a way we could do an exercise on the floor if people wanted to.
>> LISA STONE: I might get in trouble. I'll find an option for you guys.
>> REE DRUMMOND: I like that.
>> LISA STONE: It's easier for me to replace a table cloth than a wall.
>> REE DRUMMOND: I like that.
>> LISA STONE: So with that, I think that we've had an incredible conversation led by you all this morning. Go to lunch. Have a great time listening to the amazing and inspirational Jess Weiner. Think about your question for these guys. And then come back this afternoon ready to work. Sound good?
Thank you. Great work, guys. Great work, you guys.
(end of session)
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Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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